By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Requiem for the Muppets in Liberty Square



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE MUPPETS PRESENT…

By Jim Korkis

[Note from Dave—this show closed October 5, 2019]

Disney acquired the rights to Jim Henson’s Muppets in February 2004 and tried to reboot the franchise starting in 2008 with new movies and television appearances. Henson had entered into negotiations with the Disney company for the franchise before his death in 1990 resulting in the characters being incorporated into shows at Disney MGM Studios.

However, after Henson’s death, Disney was unable to finalize the acquistion from the Henson family but were able to arrange a license for the Muppet*Vision 3-D attraction. With Disney’s purchase in 2004 the word “Muppet” became a Disney trademark.

After the release of the theatrical feature film Muppets Most Wanted (2014), Disney decided to develop a theme park show about American history that would have featured Sam Eagle interacting with guests and telling in typical Muppet fashion an unintentionally humorous version of famous events where he gets the stories partially right and mostly wrong.

Jim Lewis, who had written extensively for The Muppets for thirty years, was brought in for consultation, and the show expanded to include Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and two of Gonzo’s chicken friends. James Silson and Tara Anderson were co-directors of the show. Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda wrote a new song for the shows.

The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History premiered in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom on October 2, 2016 with two different shows, The Declaration of Independence and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. The Muppets perform in the upper three windows above the Heritage House gift shop so that it appears as if it is three interconnected television screens.

Because of the distance to the guests below, the puppets were made about five percent larger than the traditional Muppets and were built by the same craftspeople who build the characters for television and film. The pre-recorded voices are provided by Steve Whitmire (Kermit the Frog), Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam Eagle) and Dave Goelz (Gonzo) and the Muppets’ actions are synchronized by live puppeteers to the voice track.

The puppeteers are also responsible for several costume changes during the show. Each show lasts approximately ten minutes and is performed multiple times during the day.

The Declaration of Independence show has Sam appearing in a circular portal at the top of the Hall of Presidents and interacting with a live James Jefferson (aka “JJ”), the Town Crier of Liberty Square down below who leads the guests in different responses during the show. As they attempt to share the events surrounding the drafting of the famous document, the other Muppets appear in the Heritage House windows.

These other Muppets portray historical figures Thomas Jefferson (Kermit), John Adams (Gonzo) and Benjamin Franklin (Fozzie). Miss Piggy is irritated that there are no female roles and decides to change King George III and later George Washington into “Georgette” for her to perform as those characters.

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere takes place solely in the windows above Heritage House and is a very loose adaptation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem Paul Revere’s Ride. Kermit portrays Revere and has a stick horse whose face surprisingly animates as another Muppet.

“The show really appeals to everybody, across generations, because the Muppets have such a wonderful history,” said Tara Anderson. “Parents are going to watch the show with their children and they’re both going to laugh! It’s the Muppets we know and love, but new.”

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

 

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